Malla's parents lived in Kalisz, Poland where her father was the unofficial spokesman of the Jewish community in the 1920s. In order to be granted permission to establish another Community bank many documents had to be completed and sent to Warsaw. All the long, drawn-out official correspondence, communicated over a period of several years, was written by Malla's mother Trina Lubinsky Blumenkrantz (1890-1952), who had a lovely handwriting. She had learned Hebrew and Yiddish in the home, but was taught how to write Polish, Russian, and German in the secular school system. She also was gifted in drawing, and Malla remembers her romantic illustrations of ladies with large hats.
The bank finally was established by 1930, and the Jewish Community wanted Rabbi Blumenkrantz as its president, but he recognized the impending doom of Polish Jewry and planned to move his family to safety. The community did not want him to go, so in 1931 when he did leave, he had to do so by night, taking the train from the next town's station. He found work in Switzerland and gradually the whole family joined him there. At that time Malla was a young child. She grew up in Lucerne, where she eventually studied graphic arts at the city's Kunstgewerbeschule. There she studied calligraphy with Max von Moos, who conveyed his love of lettering to his students. Erich Muller taught and inspired her in drawing. In 1949 Malla was the first woman to be awarded a diploma from the school.
After graduating she left for Israel; before freelancing from 1950 to 1957, Malla worked for a few months for the Tel Aviv design firm, Rothschild and Lippman (the latter, coincidentally the one which produced the ample scripts for the old standard beginner's Hebrew calligraphy book by F L Toby, The Art of Hebrew Lettering). Mall then married and moved to Chicago, where, in the 1960s, she took courses in life drawing at the Chicago Art Institute. During that time she did no professional or personal artwork, except to teach her children weaving, painting, and how to make linocuts.
In 1969 the family, with three children, settled in Israel. Her first calligraphic work was the invitation for her son Raphael's bar Mitzvah in 1976. After that commissions followed, and Malla hasn't stopped writing and drawing since. Her specialty is the Bible in art and lettering. In her works on parchment she often includes the landscape of Jerusalem, portraits of family and neighbors , or the interesting faces of strangers she sees at the bus stop, whom she invites home to model. Her drawings are always from life - even flowers on Ketubot, marriage documents, are freshly picked to serve as models. Malla's first major exhibit was in 1977 in Amsterdam, followed in 1981 by an exhibition at the Rijksmuseums's Meermanno-Westreenianum (Rare Book and Manuscript Department) in the Hague; in 1982 at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp; and in the 1984 Fordham University in Lincoln Center, New York. She has also had several exhibitions in Israel.
"My son, Raphael, after watching me for years and serving as my most severe critic became an enthusiastic calligraphy student," says Malla. Although he always showed great aesthetic sensitivity, he received no academic training in art. After serving in Israel's army, Raphael studied industrial design and fine mechanics at a Jerusalem Technical School. He worked in plastics and metalsmithing, but decided to concentrate on the making of Judaica in fine woods and sterling silver for home and synagogue. Malla designs the lettering for many of his crafted Jewish ceremonial objects.
Malla is pleased to be in the middle of three generations of a family blessed with artistic hands.
By Leila Avrin